People Power: The power of inspiration – Dec 2023

By Sam Allman

For millions of years, the Earth was a pristine, primitive planet whose inhabitants lived by the law of the jungle. The governing principle was that those who were strong and applied ruthless self-interest would be the most successful. It was a dog-eat-dog world, where only the fittest survived. To live, one had to work at it every day, searching for food and shelter. That struggle made us tough, mentally and physically. We became a hardy and resilient species. Cold, hunger, thirst and death-all manner of hardships did not stop us. We worked through our struggles, survived and flourished. We kept going.

Homo sapiens are now at the top of the food chain. Our larger brains give us the ability to think, imagine, learn, innovate and consciously evolve and adapt. We also have empathy, the ability to feel for and understand others. All of these characteristics allowed us to figure out better ways to protect ourselves, live longer, live better together and live more comfortably. Our ability to work together with others of our species allowed us to be able to innovate and produce significantly higher levels of comfort-producing benefits.

I realized how I have taken for granted some of these benefits when I stayed in the Amazon Jungle for a few days, without, for example, electricity, clean water, hot water, cellphone coverage and the Internet. It made me realize that I would not have wanted to live at any other time or era, except maybe some time in the future when even more desirable comforts would be available. While not all humans today live as comfortably as many of us do, most are certainly living more comfortably than their ancestors.

Discomfort is what motivated our species to search for better tools and methods. Our problems and the lack of comfort influenced us to innovate and experiment with new methods of living, such as food production, shelter building, weapons for hunting and protection, and means of travel. Today, our quest for comfort seems to be our highest priority. The human condition overall continues to improve as we find more innovative ways to live. Previously, only those with titles, wealth, land or means of production lived the most comfortably. That comfort is now being shared by more people at all levels of society. According to Confucius, “the common man seeks comfort.”

So, I wonder, then, why anxiety, depression and even suicide are increasing, especially in the younger generations, in this very comfortable society? Why has drug use become so pervasive? Has comfort made us and our children soft? Has spoiling our children with stuff to make them happy and free of discomfort made them better adults? Have labor-saving devices made us lazy? Has making every child a winner created adults who are unable to deal with the discomfort of losing or failing? Has overprotecting our children turned them into adults afraid to take risks? Has shielding children from the consequences of their actions made them unwilling to take responsibility for themselves? Does that create dependency or entitlement? The real question is: has the acquisition of comfort for this society generated adults who feel entitled to comfort, without the benefit of working for it and acquiring it for themselves?

Comfort may be what we seek, but it may not be what we need. Discomfort and difficulty cause us to change, act or innovate. That’s how we have made our living environments more comfortable. But, most of all, that’s how personal growth and maturity develop within us. As physical exercise improves stamina and makes us stronger, facing our problems and solving them makes us mentally tough and improves our emotional intelligence. It’s what develops hardiness, resilience and toughness. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” noted Friedrich Nietzsche, and “Tough times never last, but tough people do,” said Robert H. Schuller.

From our failures and solving our problems, we learn better ways to act and live. Learning and growing is painful-we suffer from mistakes, from not achieving what we want, from extending ourselves to do things that are uncomfortable. I often ask my audiences, “How many of you would like to be 18 again?” While the majority consistently say they would love a younger body, the universal answer is, “Only if I knew what I know now.” We have all suffered the pain of the learning that leads to maturity and wisdom. We do not want to repeat that again to regain that wisdom.

It has been said that “old age is not for the faint of heart, but neither is life for the faint of heart, young or old.” The desire for comfort has alleviated some of our sufferings in life, but it has created some additional problems, as well. Comfort can generate self-defeating behaviors, like laziness. It sabotages self-discipline, the ability to do what you ought to do, when you ought to do it, whether you like it or not. When the will to act is gone, problems can’t be solved; solutions won’t be imagined or implemented. “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction,” said John F. Kennedy. What do depressed people do? Nothing! Ironically, action breaks up depression. Refusing to face problems head-on usually creates additional problems that are worse than those we want to avoid.

The desire for comfort can lead to procrastination, which guides us to do what’s easy or fun instead of what’s important. Goethe said, “Things that matter most should never be at the mercy of things that matter least.” It also destroys the will to persist; it motivates us to shirk responsibility and give up easily. It sabotages learning. Mastering any subject or skill takes time, effort and practice. Remember, “All things are difficult before they get easier,” said Thomas Fuller. Laziness, procrastination and shirking responsibility are comfortable, but they are self-defeating and may cause worse suffering. According to M. Scott Peck, psychiatrist and author of The Road Less Traveled, laziness is a primary cause of mental illness.

So, what can we do to remedy the negative consequences of comfort in our homes, businesses, communities and country? I realize that if you have been reading this magazine and my columns, you are already aware of the issues. I suspect that you are successful; you are continually extending yourself, pushing the envelope, learning new skills and acquiring new knowledge as you amass greater wisdom. As an adult, you have learned the four key lessons of life and emotional maturity: 1.) You only live in the moment, but you must consider the consequences of your actions long term; 2.) You must take responsibility for the things in your life but only for those for which you are truly responsible; 3.) You must be adamant about knowing what’s real and true; your decisions and actions must be based on reality; 4.) You must relentlessly self-evaluate your decisions, actions and goals to assure you are abiding by the three previous laws.

Mohandas Gandhi said, “If you want to change the world, start with yourself.” Every day you get out of bed and step out the door, you face the challenges of learning and the problems the world has to offer you. Growth requires that you be open to the challenge. Just as when lifting barbells to get stronger and tougher, it requires courage and the will to act. Seeking comfort requires neither. That’s why comfort is comfortable.

As I think back to my youth, I realize that, though I was slow to learn some lessons, I was not alone. I had people who inspired me to continue my journey of self-development when I was discouraged, depressed and ready to give up. That inspiration kept me open to the challenges of life and the will to act or do whatever was needed. Occasionally, I needed to be mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. I needed to be inspired. Usually, that inspiration motivated me to quit whining and complaining about my suffering, get up out of my comfortable funk, and do something. Sometimes, I needed help. That help was always temporary to prevent me from becoming dependent and entitled. I believe that is the answer.

We don’t need to be therapists, but we can be inspiring examples. We can be catalysts for others in our society to change. And we can do it one person at a time. Our country and communities need leaders, parents, educators, coaches, friends and mentors, like you and me, who can be examples and communicate what personal growth, mental toughness and resilience can do. You have probably learned, like I, that we all need to be mentally stimulated occasionally to stand up and get moving by someone who will tell us what we need to hear. As is said, “When we’re ready, a teacher will appear.” We can be that teacher.

A characteristic of “people power” is the ability to mobilize others to take action. The key to that is the ability to communicate hope. Inspiring people communicate hope for a desirable, unseen and unknown future. That inspiration gets people to believe in themselves and their abilities to cope and deal with whatever challenge appears. Fear holds us hostage; hope sets us free. It produces the courage to continue striving and take risks. “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life,” said Muhammad Ali. In truly trying times, hope may be the only thing there is.

I believe you have the wisdom to be that inspiring teacher. Your experience at living, achieving and overcoming makes you perfect for the task. But you must be willing to continue to set the example of mental toughness, have the courage to tell people what they need to hear and encourage them to have hope even when there appears to be none. We should never forget, especially in the worst of times, that we can navigate them well and that humanity’s power to adapt and quickly get to new and higher levels of wellbeing is much greater than the bad stuff that can be thrown at us. Whatever happens, we’ll keep going.

Copyright 2023 Floor Focus